Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Where are you from?

I substitute teach fairly regularly for one particular Algebra II teacher. He's an athletic coach, and often has "events" during the school week. It's a comfortable relationship. He gives me all of the requested dates far in advance and lets me know the lessons plans. I get to know his classes fairly well, and they rarely give me any trouble. I'm just "part of the routine".

Part of the routine is seeing the progression of kids in and out. Frequently, a new student hands me the printed office slip that spells out placement in that class, that hour. I let them know that I'm not the "real" teacher and do my best to make them feel welcome. "We're glad to have you. Where are you transferring from?"

Often it's not terribly exciting. Just changing classrooms and teachers because of a schedule conflict. Sometimes, coming from another local school. Less frequently, a move in from another city and one day last fall I met a young lady displaced to our school by Hurricane Katrina.

Today's transfer student was a bit more unusual. In a quiet, shy voice, he told me that he had come from Zambia.

Welcome. I hope you are happy here.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Springtime in Texas

Not too many "wildflowers" this year due to drought conditions, but the not-so-wild flowers in the yard are off to a nice start.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Reminder for Alex

Reminder for Elizabeth

It may not seem like it at the time, but there ARE worse things than not having your train go where you want it to, when you want it to.

(Copyright Info: Jacqueline Steiner, and Bess Lomax-Hawes. The Kingston Trio version is copyright Capitol Records.)

Let me tell you the story
Of a man named Charlie
On a tragic and fateful day
He put ten cents in his pocket,
Kissed his wife and family
Went to ride on the MTA

Charlie handed in his dime
At the Kendall Square Station
And he changed for Jamaica Plain
When he got there the conductor told him,
"One more nickel."
Charlie could not get off that train.

Did he ever return,
No he never returned
And his fate is still unlearn'd
He may ride forever
'neath the streets of Boston
He's the man who never returned.

Now all night long
Charlie rides through the tunnels
Saying, "What will become of me?
How can I afford to see
My sister in Chelsea
Or my cousin in Roxbury?"

Charlie's wife goes down
To the Scollay Square station
Every day at quarter past two
And through the open window
She hands Charlie a sandwich
As the train comes rumblin' through.

As his train rolled on
underneath Greater Boston
Charlie looked around and sighed:
"Well, I'm sore and disgusted
And I'm absolutely busted;
I guess this is my last long ride."

Now you citizens of Boston,
Don't you think it's a scandal
That the people have to pay and pay
Vote for Walter A. O'Brien
And fight the fare increase
Get poor Charlie off the MTA.

Or else he'll never return,
No he'll never return
And his fate will be unlearned
He may ride forever
'neath the streets of Boston
He's the man who never returned.
He's the man who never returned.


Friday, March 17, 2006

Sending out, Letting go

Daughter Elizabeth has lived in the Boston area for most of the past 4 years. She headed off to college there in the fall of 2002, fell in love with the New England area and has never looked back. I think she would like to be a New Englander for life, and I'd be happy to visit her there.

Toward that end, she's been interviewing for jobs in the area. As a parent, I'd like to think I can solve any problem, any time. My parental confidence was severely shaken this afternoon when the phone rang.

"Mom, could you look up the website for the MBTA?"

It seems that her short foray into the inner city for an interview, which was supposed to be a thing of only a few hours, had suddenly turned into a longer, more complicated excursion. The commuter train which was supposed to whisk her back to the campus area wasn't running. Something about a fatality on the line closing down that track, "until further notice".

I looked up the site and relayed the information I found, which was negligable. I offered alternatives (cab, call a friend, go a different route?) none of which was met with much enthusiasm. She wasn't terribly concerned...just tired and a bit put out that the day was turning out as it was.

Not concerned, except, maybe, for the drunken crowds in the area, dressed in green kilts and celebrating St. Patrick's Day with gusto.

THAT put my "mom radar" into high gear! Suddenly it seemed quite important that I KEEP her on the phone until a decision was made, a cab hailed, a train boarded. Would that my arms were long enough to reach out and carry her safely out of the city. In my soul, I walked beside her, touching her with my voice, if not with my hands. Mercifully, just about that time, a voice came over the loudspeaker, audible even over the phone line, announcing "An alternate train...soon". Elizabeth brought the call to an end and went off to wait for the new train.

Two excruciating hours later, she checked in again to report that the train had been slow, almost crawling along and stopping completely at times, but had, at last, let her off at her usual campus stop. She was tired, cold, hungry and ready to get out of her "interview suit", but none the worse for wear.

And not too likely to go out in search of any festive green beer to round out the day.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Legal and Of Age

Older son Alex turned 18 a couple of weeks ago. He's discovered a few things. Hey, I'VE discovered a few things.

I discovered that not only is he old enough to rent R-rated videos and see R-rated movies, he's been old enough to do that for a full year. Yeah, 17 on that one. Chalk one up for the "involved parent".

He discovered that you have to renew your driver's license when you turn 18. Trade in the provisional license for a legal one. It's a vertical card in Texas, rather than a horizontal one, so bouncers at the club can quickly identify the over-21 crowd, but a lot of the restrictions placed on new drivers are now released. The new improved license costs $24, and you have to have it. That old license expires smack on your 18th birthday.

He discovered THAT about 3 days ago when he was getting ready to drive a friend home and on a whim, I asked him to please check his license. Oops. You'd think we'd learn on that one...the same thing happened with older sister Elizabeth. Maybe we'll all get it right when Isaac turns 18. Maybe. In the mean time, he's been walking around as Public Enemy #1 with an expired license. He didn't drive his friend home after all, not that day.

It wasn't any news that he would have to register for the draft, but what he didn't realize is that it's not as simple as they make it out to be. You CAN go down to the Post Office, fill out a card and drop it in the mail. Yes, you can do it that way. OR in these advanced times, you can register online. Go to the Selective Service website, fill in your pertinent information, and in a few days...they will send you a card through the U.S. mail which you can fill out and take to your local Post Office and mail back to them.

He also discovered that he's teetering on the edge of "over the hill" already. It seems that his favorite childhood toys, the "Transformers" robots, have been re-released as "vintage classics". That's startling news to someone so newly legal and of age.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

25 servings of Creme Brulee

Class projects. How they have changed since the second grade model of a volcano.

I'll give my kids credit. They have always been pretty good about not putting things off until the last moment. We haven't had too many late, late nights putting finishing touches on whatever it was that was due at 8 the next morning. Perhaps the recurring family story about SOMEONE ( I believe it was a great aunt) who appeared at breakfast and announced that she needed a clothespin dressed like a Roman soldier for school THAT DAY has served its purpose as a warning against the sin of procrastination.

Procrastination isn't the problem. It's the technical details.

Like the culinary torch.

Alex had the opportunity to participate in a convocation of upper level French students. They could speak, they could read, they could act (in French, naturally), or they could participate in "Other Categories". This notion of "Other" intrigued him, and he informed his teacher that he would prepare and present Cappucino Creme Brulee for the consideration of the judges.

This would involve FIRE.

We found the required torch at a kitchen store, made the trip BACK to the store for the fuel (not included), deduced that we did not have an appropriate assortment of ramekins to present 6-8 servings, so added to our ramekin collection. There was a "practice run" at cooking the dessert, the amount of whole coffee beans was adjusted a bit and Alex became quite proficient at separating eggs.

The project was such a success that Alex agreed to prepare his Creme Brulee again for a "class party" on the day before Spring Break. Cooking it wasn't the problem. Even transporting the chilled custards to the school and meeting up with Alex at the right time and place was arranged easily enough.

The problem was - the torch.

The sugar can't be flamed and melted too early or it dissolves away. There was no question of serving without the burnt sugar topping that is the trademark of the dessert. I wasn't too thrilled with the prospect of flaming them all just before running them up to the school, and Alex felt that was his area of expertise, anyway.

But on the other hand, a butane torch is not, as a rule, allowed in school. Certainly it can't sit in a locker all day, yea, it cannot even be in the child's possession.

Why couldn't he have decided to make a cheesecake?

Where there's a will, there's always a way around the rules. I would bring the torch with me when I delivered the Creme Brulee, carry it on my person to the classroom where the teacher agreed that it would be under her "control" for 50 minutes, then I would pick it up and take it home at the end of class, walking straight out of the building (do not stop, do not chat, do not pass go, do not collect $200).

I doubt that the officials at the school would really want to know that the torch was passed around rather liberally, and all who wanted to have a go at carbonizing sugar got to do so.

Alex's status as "The guy with the COOL project" remains intact..